UB scientists to study how ancient climate change has altered ecosystems in Southeast Alaska

Research into the past could provide important insights into how climate change may impact ecosystems today

BUFFALO, NY — Scientists at the University at Buffalo have received more than $2.9 million from the National Science Foundation to study the impacts of prehistoric climate change on ecosystems in Southeast Alaska.

This coastal region “holds an exceptional geological record of past biological and climatic changes” and may also have served as a crucial gateway for early human migrations to the Americas, according to the project description.

The work brings together an interdisciplinary team. UB biologists will date and analyze DNA from ancient animal bones and plant material to find out what species lived in the area at different times. During this time, UB geologists will study the ancient climate of Southeast Alaska and understand which parts of the study area were covered in ice during the last ice age and how quickly the glaciers moved. are removed as the area warms.

Together, these data will tell a story of how ecosystems in the region have changed as the climate has changed over the past 40,000 years.

What scientists learn could provide important insights into how climate change may impact ecosystems around the world today, says Charlotte Lindqvist, PhD, associate professor of biological sciences at UB College of Arts and Sciences. Sciences, who leads the project as principal investigator.

“Much of the research into how life on Earth responds to climate change has focused on a single species over a short period of time,” says Lindqvist. “We are trying to understand changes in species communities dating back at least 40,000 years, also focusing on three particularly rapid warming events that we know have occurred since the last Ice Age. What kinds of species were found before and after these events, and how did this correlate with changing environmental and climatic variables? As warming occurs, do we have a different community of species? How fast is it evolving? If we can learn something about what happened in the past, it might tell us something about what might happen today and in the future.

Co-principal investigators include Jason Briner, PhD, professor of geology; Elizabeth Thomas, PhD, associate professor of geology; and Corey Krabbenhoft, PhD, an ecologist who will start as an assistant professor of biological sciences in 2023.

The project will invest in interdisciplinary STEM training and career development to educate the next generation of multidisciplinary scientists, including the training of postdoctoral associates and graduate and undergraduate students. The team will also develop programs for science teachers in Buffalo high schools and for K-12 students in Southeast Alaska.

Lindqvist notes that the team of biologists and geologists have worked together in Southeast Alaska in the past, with previous studies providing valuable insight into conversations about how early people may have entered the Americas. and on the history of dogs in the Americas.

The new grant, announced in August by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, will build on those earlier successes with a broader study that examines the impact of prehistoric climate change on ecosystems of the same region.

“The University at Buffalo is deeply committed to addressing climate change and the current sustainability crisis,” said UB President Satish K. Tripathi. “Through this award from the National Science Foundation, our world-class scientists will be able to further research in climate science, contributing to the understanding and mitigation of one of the preeminent problems facing our nation and our world. I am proud of our entire UB team and grateful for the unwavering support of Senator Schumer, Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Brian Higgins for climate research and the recognition by the National Science Foundation of the important role that UB can play in tackling one of society’s most pressing problems.